A year into his tenure as chief executive of CCLA Investment Management, and animated by a mandate from the board to significantly develop the sector's second largest fund manager, Michael Quicke seems to have distilled its unique selling point for the years ahead.
"CCLA is a social enterprise," he says. "We are owned by charities and our profits go back to them. Most financial services bodies are there to deliver profit. We are here to deliver the best service."
Carved from the Church of England in the 80s, the organisation invests £4.9bn in pooled funds on behalf of 14,000 'church entities' such as parishes, 22 local councils and 29,000 charities. In terms of numbers of charity clients, it dwarfs the competition, but it has lost ground recently. Tenth in the Charities Aid Foundation's ranking of fund managers' market share of top 500 charities and grant-making trusts in 2002, it slipped to 13th by 2004.
Quicke says he has been brought in to modernise the organisation. "CCLA hadn't been as responsive as it could have been to the changing demands of the market," he says. "And it had not engaged so much with charities as it had with the church side. It was rather unexciting, undynamic, not particularly forward-looking and rather introverted in many ways. I was brought in with a mandate to improve, grow and develop the business."
He convinced the board that this required the influx of new, expensive blood. James Bevan, chief investment officer at Abbey, was brought in to head the fund management team. "He's very bright and able," says Quicke. "This business requires people to really know what they are doing."
Andrew Robinson, former head of community banking at the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, was also recruited to undertake a major programme of engagement with CCLA's charity clients. An apostle of social enterprise, he may well have a lot to do with the firm's new image. Quicke himself, the first of the new troika to arrive at CCLA, spent 20 years with Leopold Joseph, 10 of them as chief executive, until it was taken over by Butterfield Bank in 2005.
The bank specialised in high net worth private clients, but also retained a portfolio of charities. For his part, Quicke has personal connections with the charity sector as a trustee of the National Trust and chair of its audit committee. A mathematician by training, he describes himself as "very logical - rather too logical sometimes". He also stresses that he is not a fund manager. "I'm a business manager," he says. "I build strategies and manage people."
Quicke says the initial strategy of the new regime will be to understand the needs of the clients and devise products to meet them. He admits you can't have a personal conversation with 29,000 clients, so the company intends to talk to its client base through the sector's umbrella bodies.
Its current offer to the sector includes four Charities Official Investment Funds, or Coifs: a deposit fund, an investment fund, a fixed-interest fund and a property fund. Quicke is coy about new additions to that portfolio, explaining that the recent arrivals of Bevan and Robinson mean the organisation is still in the foothills of product development. But one thing is clear from Quicke's first 12 months in charge - the company now sees itself as a rival to large clearing banks as well as other fund managers. CCLA is aggressively promoting its Coif deposit fund for charities. The current interest rate of 5.25 per cent, he claims, is much better than what the high street banks will give to the sector.
"We know thousands of charities get a poxy rate on their deposits," he says. "This product is competing very directly with the banking industry." Quicke is also adamant that, if other investment houses feel threatened by a more aggressive approach from his outfit, they will not be able to nullify the competition by buying it out.
Many familiar charity specialist fund management names - Chiswell Associates, Barings, Laing & Cruickshank and Carr Sheppards Crosthwaite - have recently been gobbled up, but Quicke says CCLA will not sacrifice its independence.
"The structure we have - ownership by clients - serves them extremely well," he says. "We are the honest intermediary between the sharks and the charitable industry.
"We are going to ensure that the products we develop are there to provide what our clients need, rather than what we think we can flog them. That's a difference in mindset."